Response to James White (3 of 4)

 

James White – Alpha and Omega Ministries

 

This article is the third of a four part series in response to James White’s 13 April 2017 podcast: “Can a Consistent Eastern Orthodox Believer Be the Bible Answer Man?”  For my previous responses, please see: “Response to James White” (1 of 4) and (2 of 4).  The purpose of these articles is not to defend Hank Hanegraaff, but to promote good reasoning and courteous interaction between Protestants and Orthodox.

 

Why the Church Fathers Matter

The early Church Fathers are a valuable resource for understanding the historic Christian Faith.  For this reason, they have been a frequent topic of discussion between Reformed and Orthodox. Protestants are to be commended for utilizing the Church Fathers, however, due to their lack of familiarity with the Church Fathers Protestants often misread them or take them out of context. In this brief article, I point to one error by James White and another error that I noticed come up quite often in Protestant-Orthodox dialogue.

 

 

Cherry picking the Church Fathers – At the 17:25 mark, James White cites Irenaeus of Lyons’ idiosyncratic hypothesis that Jesus died at the age of 50 as evidence against Tradition.  First, he has apparently overlooked Mr. Hanegraaff’s qualifying statement that the Church Fathers individually are fallible (17:19) Second, he is cherry picking the Church Fathers.  Mr. White apparently is unaware of the importance Orthodoxy places on the patristic consensus.  This is the understanding that while Church Fathers may be fallible individually, their collective witness to Tradition is considered infallible. This belief is based on Christ’s promise that He would send the Holy Spirit to guide the Church into all truth (John 16:13) and the teaching ministry as charismatic gift to the Church (Ephesians 4:11).

 

 

Irenaeus of Lyons

Proof texting the Church FathersOne commenter (Geoff) made a mistake similar to Mr. White’s mishandling of Irenaeus (my responsehere).   He cited Irenaeus of Lyons to support Protestantism’s sola scriptura.

We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith. Against Heresies 3.1.1

In this particular sentence one could get the impression that what Orthodoxy refers to as Tradition” is identical to Scripture.  However, the surrounding context, especially Against Heresies 3.2.1-2, shows that Irenaeus believed in the complementarity of Scripture and Tradition.  A single quote from one Church Father is not sufficient.  One needs to read a Church Father’s writings in context, then in light of the patristic consensus.  Proof texting is often a sign of laziness and intellectual arrogance, and therefore to be avoided by those who love God’s truth.

 

In closing, Reformed Christians and Evangelicals are strongly encouraged to learn about the early Church and to read the writings of the Church Fathers.  The Church Fathers represent a rich theological and spiritual heritage shared by all Christians.  However, Protestants should not rush into this thinking that it will be easy.  Becoming familiar with the Church Fathers and the early Church won’t be easy but it will be richly rewarding.

Robert Arakaki

 

Further Readings

Robert Arakaki.  2017.  “How NOT to Do Anti-Orthodox Apologetics.

Robert Arakaki.  2016.  “Getting to Know Your Church Fathers.”

Fr. Lawrence Farley.  2016.  “The Consensus of the Fathers.”

 

9 comments:

  1. Dear Robert Arakaki.
    What do Reformed Christians say to Eastern Orthodox Christians regarding Filioque? Karl Barth defended Filioque from a Neo-orthodox Reformed perspective. Some Reformed say little or seem to be little aware of the Filioque tradition, and seem to take it for granted, and not question it, not on the basis of Scripture John 15:26 and Acts 2:33. Robert, do you have any Orthodox Reformed Bridge articles which deal with Filioque. Please write and send a link to Filioque-related articles if you can. Thank you; God bless. Scott Harrington Erie PA

    1. Scott,

      Here’s an article I wrote introducing the now defunct website “Drop the Filioque.”

      As far as I know Reformed Christians don’t have much to say about the Filioque clause because they are not interested in the controversies that troubled the early Church. I suspect that many Protestants view the doctrine of the Trinity while important as somewhat abstract and theoretical, and not really relevant to practical discipleship. See the TGC article by John Starke “A Pastoral Case for the Filioque Clause.”

      I skimmed through Starke’s article and my impression is that he confuses theology (relations within the Trinity) with economy (relations between God and creation). The verses he cites in defense of the Filioque are really about economy, e.g., Christ’s imparting the Holy Spirit onto believers. What Pastor Starke needs to do is cite verses that speak about the Holy Spirit eternal relationship with the Father and the Son. Or to put it another way, what constitutes the unity of the Trinity? Is it the Person of the Father (the Cappadocian understanding) or the Father and the Son (Augustine’s understanding).

      I interacted with an Anglican friend who attended Westminster Seminary about the Filioque. His response was that it is part of Western Christianity and that the Orthodox tradition of not having the Filioque represents Eastern Christianity. My response is that the original version of 325-381 is the catholic (universal) version and that the later addition is really the Western version. In other words, there is no “Eastern” version of the Nicene Creed. There’s the original Catholic (universal) version and the later Western papal edition with the Filioque clause.

      I think the bottomline question is: How important or how prominent is the Trinity in the typical Sunday worship of Reformed churches? My guess is that for many Reformed congregations the Trinity is hardly mentioned and if that is the case then debate about the Trinity and the Filioque clause will come across as abstruse and not practical. It is not so much they deny the Trinity but if one observes the practices of Reformed worship one will notice that their language tend to rely on “God,” “Lord,” and “Jesus Christ.” That’s the dominant discourse. This is quite different from the Orthodox Liturgy which is emphatically Trinitarian in its discourse.

      Robert

  2. Dear Robert Arakaki.
    The Eastern Orthodox debate Reformed James White. The Catholics debate him too. Have you seen this book: Armstrong, Dave. (2013). Debating James White: Shocking Failures of the “Undefeatable” Anti-Catholic Champion. lulu.com. If you read this book, can you review the book from your Orthodox perspective and let us know how we Orthodox differ from Armstrong’s Catholicism and from White’s Reformed view? Thank you. Scott R. Harrington, B.A., May, 2017.

    1. Scott,

      Thank you for your suggestions. I would if I had the time, but I have a lot of things on my plate right now.

      Robert

  3. Hi Robert,
    I’ve wondered how best to respond to the challenge to Irenaeus on the age of Jesus. I’ve seen it come up a few times as a way to circumvent his authority. The argument tends to go ‘Irenaeus was totally wrong about the age of Jesus so you can’t trust him on anything! – ie bishops, apostolic succession, Peter at Rome’.

    I note that Irenaeus is arguing against Gnostics who took the number 30 to be a ‘magic’ number. He is not actually exploring Jesus’s age for the sake of it. I’m not sure if the chapter titles go back to Irenaeus or a later editor but Irenaeus states that Jesus was over 40 but the title states over 50.

    Now, Jesus is speculated to be born around 7 BC – some put it a few years earlier but others a few years later. The best dates for the crucifixion are either 30 AD or 33. If we take 33 then Jesus may well have been 40, certainly not the commonly touted 33 years old.

    Also I note that Irenaeus thought that Jesus was crucified under Claudius. The last years of Tiberius were confused and Caligula suffered a ‘damnatio memoria’ so he was erased from records and this might have put off Irenaeus’ chronology. Claudius was also part of Tiberius’s full name (which adds to the confusion).

    Any thoughts?

  4. Dear Robert.
    It seems clear that it is fully impossible for any Orthodox Christian to discuss completely and faithfully all that is entailed in accepting and believing in the doctrine of the Filioque, which separates the heterodox West from the Orthodox Church, and seems to remain the persistent problem of the West which keeps them from uniting with us in the Orthodox Church. We ourselves as converts to Orthodoxy feel the pain and the sadness of our wanderings (at least I, speaking only for and of myself in my years of aimless wandering and sins and faults and problems, and unclear convictions of doctrinal and moral belief, I view my personal antinomian sins and the Filioque as somehow strangely tied together in one inseparable mess that was my life before I first met the true Christ of Orthodoxy). Now I struggle against remaining sin and am filled with joy from the Spirit that God has somehow forgiven me for speaking and saying Filioque, and I feel free and renewed in the Holy Spirit for now confessing the Orthodox Faith often (always) in the correct way (without the addition of Filioque I once unknowingly recited). God bless us all and give us the peace of God which passeth understanding to guard our hearts and minds and souls and lives now and ever in Christ Jesus Amen. Gospodi pomiloi, Kyrie eleison LORD, have mercy; Amen. God bless you, Robert. Keep the good articles coming, thank you. God have mercy on us.

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